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Get Set for Wetter Springs and Falls and Drier Summers

There will still be droughts as in 2012. But as a long-term trend, climate models show moisture will be bookended mainly at spring and fall.

Budgeting for tile, cover crops, or no-till technology in future years will likely provide a favorable return on investment. That’s because Midwestern farmers are likely to face wetter falls and springs and drier summers in the future.

 “There still will be dry years like in 2012, but that is not the trend,” says Dennis Todey, director of USDA’s Midwest Climate Hub in Ames, Iowa.  Overall, he told those attending this week’s Iowa Soybean Association research conference in Des Moines that climate models show wetter springs and falls punctuated by drier summers as a future overall trend.

Jamming precipitation into tighter windows means the chance of soil loss by increased water erosion is higher. That can be alleviated by techniques like reduced tillage and cover crops.

Other climate trends include:

Warmer Temperatures

 “The whole Corn Belt is getting warmer,” he says. “But how it is happening is interesting. We are getting fewer hot days, but warmer nights.”

That’s bad for corn and soybean production. Ohio State University agronomists show that high nighttime temperatures in the 70s or 80s can trigger wasteful respiration and a lower net amount of dry matter accumulation in plants. High nighttime temperatures curb the amount of sugars produced by photosynthesis during the day. Thus, less sugar is available to fill developing kernels or seeds, which triggers lower grain production.

The Corn Belt Is Moving 

“The Corn Belt is moving northward, it is clear,” says Todey. “It will be harder to grow crops farther south.”

That’s bad news if you farm in Oklahoma. It’s good news if you farm in northwestern Minnesota or northern North Dakota.

Conversely, though, warmer temperatures mean little if you can’t get in the field due to increased spring precipitation that spawns wet soils, says Todey. Meanwhile, the forecasted increase in average dew point temperatures can create favorable conditions for plant disease.

Soybean Yields 

North Dakota and northern Minnesota farmers may be happy with this picture, but farmers with rich soils like those in Story County, Iowa (central Iowa), may struggle when it comes to growing soybeans. Models extending out as far as 2075 show increased yield gaps in such areas, says Todey.

More atmospheric carbon dioxide is also forecast. Soybeans can react positively to this. Unfortunately, so can weeds. Canada thistle, for example, thrives under higher carbon dioxide rates than those that currently exist, says Todey.

Nematodes once limited by frozen wintertime soils in states like Ohio are also moving in due to warmer conditions, notes Todey.

“This is not a doom-and-gloom talk, but you have to think about how to adapt to changing conditions in order to reduce risk and improve your ability to grow crops,” he says.

This Year’s Weather

Get ready for mud in early spring, particularly in areas north and east of Iowa, says Todey. After this week’s current cold snap (in Iowa, anyway), weather models show little cold coming yet this winter.  

From a precipitation standpoint, areas north and east of Iowa will have more precipitation. “There will be lots of mud around,” he says.  

Longer-term forecasts for the early growing season show no strong predictions for precipitation either way. This could change, though, as long-term forecasts change more than shorter-term ones, he says.  

One region that is bucking the increased spring precipitation forecast is southeastern Iowa, where dryness is on par with conditions akin to the 1988 drought.

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